The Rugby League world is still in a hangover period from what was easily the best world cup on record in 2017. Since the final whistle blew on their semi-final loss to England we’ve been reading all over the internet about the Tongan heroics, all overshadowing Fiji’s remarkable win over the Kiwis to see them through to the semi-final themselves.
And yet, here’s me already bringing up RLWC 2021.
It seems an eternity away yet, doesn’t it? I mean we’ve just had the 2018 grand final, there’s still three more to come before the next RLWC.
By then, Wayne Bennett will almost be 72 years old, and Paul Gallen will have probably announced that his new two-year extension will be his last, followed by a chorus of sarcastic laughter from the onlooking media.
But the mention of it is for good reason. This World Cup will be unlike anything we’ve seen before, in fact it already is.
The 2021 World Cup is to be hosted in England, a country that hasn’t hosted a world cup on its own since 1995. But rest assured, they’re not going to be under-prepared. The ball is already well and truly rolling for the 2021 world cup, with 26 cities in England already having made official approaches to the organization about hosting games.
Rumoured venues include iconic Premier League grounds St. James’ Park (Newcastle United), Anfield (Liverpool FC) and of course Old Trafford (Manchester United), which was the host of the final in the 2013 World Cup.
With a view on the Rugby League fanbase in England, 80% of games are to be located in the North of England. The remaining 20% will have an eye on expansion throughout the country, targeting perhaps the large Italian and Irish communities within London. The exact locations of these games will be announced in January.
The tournament itself is aiming to smash the many world cup records broken in 2017. An example of this, is the influx of tourists as a result of the tournament.
Take this as an example, when the Rugby Union Six Nations take place in England, tourists cram in from places like France, NZ and South Africa purely to experience the atmosphere of the tournament.
The RLWC 2021 have taken this as an example too. It’s a goal for them to achieve what they’ve called the ‘event’ status of the Six Nations, and to reach a total influx of 700,000 guests in England as a result of the tournament.
Tournaments can’t run without money though. But of course, the RLWC has that easily covered. After approaching the UK government with a pitch about the financial opportunities that the tournament would provide, they’ve gained a grant of 25 million pounds of government support.
That’s the biggest sporting grant the UK government’s provided since the 2012 Olympics.
The money’s not about to go to waste either. The tournament aims to become the biggest entertainment event on social media in 2021. This will be achieved through promotion on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
As well as this, the organization are promising to run Rugby-League themed events outside the grounds on matchday, to create a real ‘festival of sport’ atmosphere. It really will be an impressive event.
But the RLWC is still so much more. This time, it goes beyond just a tournament. The RLWC have employed specialist staff to tour countries all over the world to provide seminars on development as part of their ‘RLWC International Development Programme’.
The aim of these seminars is to teach the local rugby league federations how to grow. They cover everything, from obtaining sponsorship deals, to retaining players, to enticing bigger crowds to come for a better matchday experience.
We keep using the term ‘International rugby league’ as if its something which will simply come by itself. That assumption couldn’t be further from reality, but what the RLWC is doing is leading the way in the right direction.
Call me a dreamer, someone who’s making a big fuss over nothing. But from a dreamer, here’s a reality. In 2025, the USA and Canada are scheduled to host the Rugby League World Cup. As it stands, that tournament will be an embarrassment, with sub-par crowds and an overall lack of local interest.
But the year is 2018, international rugby league still has seven full years left to develop until then. To create interest, and make people want to attend the tournament. There is still plenty of time to turn this potential catastrophe as an immense success.
As soon as the venue for 2025 was announced, it was clear that rugby league was to put all its cards on the table for this one. This has only become more apparent as time has moved on. If 2025 is a failure, it’s unlikely that rugby league can bounce back. But if not, suddenly rugby league has a whole new platform and fanbase to share our beautiful game with.
So rugby league, I ask you… Are we going to let this opportunity pass? Or are we going to finally wake up to ourselves and start investing some time and money on International rugby league? Seven years, an eternity away right? Wrong. The time is now, and I’ll tell you this for nothing, if we can make all this work, it’ll will be worth the wait.